Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 29, 2012

Wind turbines, power outages and preparing to spring forward a little early

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— There was a commercial on television last week that caught my attention. It was the first time I had seen this particular advertisement, and I had to stop and really think about it after watching it.

As a journalist, I am an advocate for accuracy and facts. The commercial in question that caught my attention wasn’t inaccurate, but it also didn’t tell the entire story. It was a commercial about the development of wind turbines in America. It appeared to serve two purposes. The first was to inform viewers that wind turbines are being constructed to meet our nation’s growing energy needs.   

Secondly, the commercial suggested that it was, in fact, those very wind turbines up and running at the moment that are responsible for keeping the lights on in America. Interesting. I thought coal was still responsible for keeping the lights on — or at least for meeting 45 percent of America’s energy needs. When did wind turbines replace coal?

Coal, and natural gas, are still our most abundant and affordable source of energy in this country. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against wind turbines, and clean energy in particular. I would love to see more wind turbines constructed across America. In fact, I believe it only makes sense to harness the wind for energy. But we don’t have any wind turbines in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia at the moment and, apparently, a lot of folks around here don’t want wind turbines either.

So how could wind turbines be responsible for keeping the lights on in the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia when there are no wind turbines in the region? We are still dependent on coal at the moment to keep the lights on. In the future, the vast Marcellus Shale field may play a big role in meeting many of our energy needs as well. But until some wind turbines are developed in our region, they can’t be responsible for keeping our lights on.

Given the current administration’s push for clean energy, the commercial wasn’t much of a surprise. I suspect we will see and hear a lot more in the near future about wind turbines, solar homes, vehicles that run on batteries and other forms of clean energy. And that’s fine. But an all-of-the-above approach as advocated by the administration in recent days should certainly include coal, clean-coal technologies and natural gas.


In a case of comical irony, the lights went off a couple of hours or so after seeing this particular commercial. Maybe coal isn’t keeping the lights on in the region after all? But maybe not. The real reason for the power outage had nothing to do with coal or wind turbines. A massive winter storm was bearing down on the region with wet, heavy snow. We were warned in advance that power outages could happen, and they did. When the storm finally ended, Appalachian Power was reporting more than 60,000 power outages between southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.

I was among those in the dark. But I was not entirely cut off from the outside world. Expecting a possible power outage, I had charged my cell phone, portable Mifi and the Nintendo 3DS in advance. I also put fresh batteries into the portable, and amazingly high definition, mini television, thus ensuring I would have at least two, free, over-the-air channels to watch if the electricity, and the cable, went out.

I also had a few candles ready to burn. All of the preparation came in handy. An old coal stove converted into a wood stove helped keep the house warm (at least the downstairs area anywhere — the upstairs was very cold) in the absence of electrical heat and even the pellet stove, which also requires electricity to run.  

All of the pre-planning helped me to weather the prolonged power outage. But the timing of the storm, and the subsequent power outages, was pretty lousy. It was my first week off from work for the new year, and a portion of my time off was spent in the dark. Thankfully, I was able to get regular updates from the Daily Telegraph’s own website about the status of the power restoration efforts through our morning and afternoon updates.


We were due at least one big snowstorm, and we got it. Let’s hope the President’s Day storm of 2012 will be the last significant snowfall of the season. After all, Thursday is March 1. And we spring forward on March 11. So we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In a span of five days, we went from a winter storm warning to a tornado watch. So the weather pattern is already changing. February is winding down, and March is almost here. Spring is getting closer every day. That’s good news for all of us who don’t like the snow, and power outages.  

Charles Owens is the Daily Telegraph’s city editor. Contact him at